TOPS could soon recognize coding as foreign language for scholarship requirement


BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) – Every parent wants their child to grow up and have a decision on where they’d like to go to college. And most people hope wherever they decide comes with some scholarship money.

If students choose to stay in-state, there could be new changes coming to the requirements for the TOPS (Taylor Opportunity Program for Students) scholarship.

Louisiana lawmakers signed off on a bill Monday, June 7, that allows students to substitute computer coding for a foreign language when being considered for TOPS eligibility.

Advocates say the move is a long time coming because the jobs in the field are endless.

More than 50,000 students across Louisiana receive tuition payments through TOPS. And soon the requirements may not exactly be easier, but there will be options.

“Coding in a sense is another foreign language. It’s just a different type,” said Derrick Warren, Associate Dean and Director of Graduate Programs for the College of Business at Southern University.

“So we’re taking English-like statements and then writing them in a particular language using Syntax or the rules for that particular language that’s all,” said Dr. Lynette Jackson, an assistant professor of Computer Science at Southern University.

Over at the Department of Computer Sciences at Southern University, all of their roughly 400 students are required to learn how to code.

“All it is, is just taking that dumb device, making it smart by giving it some instructions in that particular language,” said Dr. Jackson.

Some children may already be learning it from elementary school all the way up to high school, depending on their curriculum.

“It addresses the biggest workforce gap we have in our state,” said State Senator Sharon Hewitt (R), District 1.

Senate Bill 191 by Senator Sharon Hewitt amends the requirements of eligibility for a TOPS scholarship.

Students can use two credits of computer coding in high school, instead of two credits of a foreign language.

“I don’t want them to go to Texas, or to Mississippi, or to Arkansas to set up shop. We want them to come here to Louisiana. These are high-paying, high-demand jobs, and we want our students to be able to take advantage of these opportunities,” said Sen. Hewitt.

“Coding is not your basic computer science,” said Trey Godfrey, Senior Vice President of Policy for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

Godfrey says this gives students the chance to learn those high-level computer coding skills in high school, and be a part of a high-need and high-wage industry in the Capital Region and beyond.

“And so, to have the opportunity to develop a deeper pool of talent in more young people with these skills. Tech is a field that is just going to continue to grow, not just in software-like companies, but in all companies across the industry gamut,” said Godfrey.

Opponents of the bill are worried this could lead to districts cutting French language programs. But Sen. Hewitt says they can still take both.

But it all comes down to having options.

“And coding is a win, win. Foreign language is a win, win. Both are important. And I do think it’s important that we allow students to have a choice,” said Warren.

Sen. Hewitt says the bill should soon be on the governor’s desk.

Gov. John Bel Edwards will have 20 days to consider signing the bill or not, or he could just let it become law without any obstruction.

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